by Armond White
Margaret’s DVD and Dust Bunnies attempt to rescue the elite
Advance word on the DVD release of Kenneth Lonergan’s film Margaret hailed it as a “masterpiece” yet no one calls it a good movie because it isn’t even that. It’s the latest event from our era’s perverse herd mentality. A group of media cronies with similar interests and goals have rallied around Margaret which Lonergan filmed in 2005 but was shelved for legal reasons: Lonergan failed to meet the distributor’s established running time (he refused to alter his three-hour-plus director‘s cut), until eventually enlisting Martin Scorsese’s help in re-editing the excessive footage to a contractual length.
That remedy is ironic since Scorsese has been unable to deliver a good or brief film of his own for more than a decade now (at least since he hired Lonergan to do re-writes on the overweening Gangs of New York). And Margaret suffers many of the same excesses as recent Scorsese–primarily its unfocussed story of Upper West Side New York private school student Lisa Cohen (Anna Paquin) who witnesses a fatal bus accident then laboriously seeks to have the driver (Mark Ruffalo) sued, fired, penalized or punished.
This plot suggests ethical conflict as in the recent Iranian tug-of-war A Separation but Lonergan structuresMargaret like HBO miniseries episodes; a scandal and monologue every 15 minutes. He neglects Lisa’s moral sense while stumbling over the very issues and situations he devised. He turns Margaret (title from Gerard Manley Hopkins’ poem “Spring and Fall to a Young Child”–the first of several high-toned references) into a presumptuous allegory for 9/11 fear and guilt.
In one sense, the movie never recovers from its early symbolic image of bloody public disaster. The clumsily-staged gore is not as damaging as Lonergan’s calamitous concept; he inexpertly combines Lisa’s naivete and arrogance with on-the-street happenstance and theatrical overstatement. Avid Anna Paquin is like Jean Simmons reborn but she’s set opposite broad, hysterical death-bed acting by Allison Janney–Actors Studio terrorism.
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